Bessie Stringfield was first introduced to me in Lovecraft Country and now has released a colorful picture book detailing the life of a famed motorcyclist! Read on for a spoiler-free review of Bessie the Motorcycle Queen by Charles R. Smith Jr. and illustrated by Charlot Kristensen.
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Bessie the Motorcycle Queen educates children on the life of Bessie Stringfield, who traveled the country by herself on a motorcycle. Set during segregation, the book doesn’t shy away from detailing the racism and ignorance Bessie faced on her journeys. Because of the rampant prejudice, Bessie quickly finds out the towns to avoid and the Black friendly hotels and restaurants that she could stop at.
One scary experience is narrated which has Bessie racing away from a truck loaded with KKK members but despite this, Bessie isn’t deterred from her travels. With a lifestyle funded by performing motorcycle tricks at carnivals and winning races despite being the only woman in most of the races, Bessie travels the majority of the country before settling down in Florida.
Bessie the Motorcycle Queen is a wonderful little book that educates children about one iconic Black woman. Despite the challenges and racism, she was able to travel freely to her heart’s content and then serve her country in World War II.
The book should spark conversations about Jim Crow, the KKK, and just how difficult it was for Bessie to persevere in traveling along by herself in a country that viewed her as less than. Illustrations by Charlot Kristensen are crisp and colorful and I loved how the scenes depicting segregation signs made the signs pop while the backgrounds seem muted so your eye will catch how unfair and prevalent the segregation signs were in the South.
Rating 4/5 stars
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